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Plato's Republic Art Notes - D Rucker : Plato and the Poets The treatment accorded the artists in the Republic is a reasonable aspect of the ideal state being constructed there and a logical consequence of Plato's view of the relations among the good, the true, and the beautiful. Neither the legislator nor the philosopher nor the poet has the same role in the Republic as he has in an actual state; and these differences in role are consequence upon the difference between an ideal and an actuality. The philosopher in the characteristic Socrate dialogues is part of a continuing inquiry; he never claims to know, and when questioned, he responds by beginning a search. Socrates' profession of ignorance is not a false humility nor a bad joke at the expense of the truly ignorant. It is a statement of Plato's view of the essential incompleteness of human knowledge and it is a method by which a degree of knowledge may be attained. The idea of the good is inexhaustible. Socrates does not know what it is; he only knows a means for approaching it. Why is the philosopher in the Republic depicted as the man who has knowledge? On the face of it, this depiction goes directly against almost the whole body of Plato's other works. But the idea state is specifically constructed by Plato to produce knowledge in the ablest men of that society so that those men, once they have glimpsed the good, can properly order the state, the citizens and themselves. But it only in the real state that the philosopher can take part in politics. The philosopher in our world, as Plato says in the Apology, must exist in a private station. Short of the institutionalisation of the education process of the Republic, the philosopher-king could not hope for the necessary support from the institutions and the citizens of his city. Where is the legislator in the Republic? Or the judge? Plato's reverence fro the laws is evidenced in many places in his other dialogues. Despite his attitude to this in Laws and Crito, in Republic Socrates brushes aside the question of what laws will be needed to regulate the relations among men with the observation that, if these men are properly educated as citizens, they can regulate their own relations without need of a network of petty laws. The Republic is a pattern in heaven, an image of ideal justice to be found nowhere on earth, which is to serve as a norm in our judgements about justice on earth. In the same way, the role of the poet must be tailored to the requirements of this image of the ideal state. In other contexts, Plato speaks of the poets as divine, inspired, wise. Socrates' conclusion about the saying of Simonides quotes by Polemarchus is that they cannot attribute Polemarchus' definition of justice to the poet 'or any other of the wise and blessed'. The poets are inspired; God speaks through them. But like the prophecies of the oracles, the utterances of the mets must be interpreted. There is no impiety in Plato's attitude nor any scorn of the poets. He does not question the wisdom of the gods; he merely questions the meaning of the formulations given that wisdom by the instruments the gods have to use. But if the poets are inspired, why does Plato banish them from the Republic? In the first place, poets, as such, are not banished. Certain kinds of poetry will not be allowed, and Homer's and Hesiod's works must be the first to go. Education begins with myths about gods and heroes, and useful myths and tales which, while not literally true, are not false. And all such dreadful tales of murder and rape as poets tell of the gods are false - false of the gods. If theology and heroic tales are to have any place in shaping the minds of the children of Plato's city, the gods and heroes must be suitable images. The poetry that is allowed must be conducive to the end of the state : the production of good men. All elements in the Republic are directed toward the shaping of its citizens for their proper function in the state. Plato is full aware of the complexity and difficulty of education - involving as it does the whole society as it impinges on the young. One
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ART discordant element can wreck the entire enterprise. The ideas contained in the poems taught to the children affect their characters; so do the rhythms and tunes. Noble men can be formed only by noble themes and noble harmonies. Poetry is, therefore, central to eduction - but poetry is not an end it itself. Censorship is an ugly world. We need to realise,however, that censorship in the world we inhabit is usually silly simply because we have no standard of what is allowable. We have nothing more than arbitrary rules of exclusion. But in a society that produces perverted minds, the artist does seem to have a claim to right the produce art for those minds. Plato has a standard in the Republic : The guardians must be of a certain character if they are to preserve the city ,and the whole city has to educate the young to that character. He is not concerned in this dialogue with the warped characters men do have; he is concerned with the kinds of characters they would need in order to be just. Hence catering to perversions would defeat the entire aim of the Republic. The Republic exists, so far as it does exist, in the minds of men as a guide and a goal. Life in the Republic is aesthetic as well as moral and true. Each man attains that degree of harmony within himself and with his fellows that he is capable of. Grace characterises all that the educated man is and does, and consequently he does not have to look to beyond his own activities for those feelings and awareness that art must furnish us because our lives are graceless and disordered. The Republic is designed to construct beauty at the level of laws and institutions. The philosopher-king can attain beauty of knowledge, but for his being as a philosopher, he is obliged to maintain his concern with the state. Art as a distinct function from practical life is at the level of somatic beauty - physical form. The nurturing of the natural capacities of men requires the Republic and its well-ordered institutions - institutions with the purpose and the means of producing beautiful characters and actions. There physical beauty - natural or artificial - is not a separate consideration; it is a concomitant of the development of well-ordered psyches in a well-ordered state. The primary aesthetic concern of the ideal city - inhabited by men, not just philosophers, is with the moral-political structure of the society. Plato has built for us a model in view of which we can gauge our own society. We always fall short of the model.
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Plato's Republic J Tate : 'Imitation' in Plato's Republic Part 1 : On Imitation in Book III The tenth book attacks all 'imitative' poetry as remote from truth, and excludes it from the state because of its pernicious influence. This at first sight might appear that he ahas forgotten the value that it can have. But Book X expressly exempts from condemnation hymns to the gods and panegyrics on good man (607a). Even these, however, are imitative; for they imitate or represent the characters and actions of gods and men. The strange result is that the tenth book not only contradicts the third; it also contradicts itself. 398b : The poet will imitate the style of the virtuous man. 399a : The harmony in songs is to imitate the tones and actions of brave men. Perhaps there is a sense in which the poetry which he admits is not imitative. Otherwise it is hard to understand how he can have retained in 607a the kind of thing which he has just excluded. Some interpreters, indeed, think that since he retained some poetry, thought all is imitative, he made an unconscious distinction between a true and a false kind of imitation. And it would seem that the true kind of imitation is in some sense non-imitative. This looks as if not all poetry is imitative in the sense in which the word is here used. But it is argued that this statement regarding his previous conclusion is a mistake. The third book did not exclude the poetry that imitates a good model. But this accusation is loosely put - the goodness of the model will not satisfy Plato's earlier requirements. Homer,for example, was censured for a passage where he imitated the best possible model, Zues himself (388c). Book III : The question of the poetic style which he admitted beings with 392c. Three styles are distinguished :
1. Simple narrative, where the poet speaks in his own person, as in dithyrambic poetry.
2. Narrative by means of imitation, where the poet speaks in character, as in dramatic.
3. A style compounded of I and 2, as in epic. To make oneself life another, either in voice or appearance, is imitation; if the poet nowhere concealed his own personality, there would be no imitation in his work. Before deciding what style is to be admitted, an important question has to be considered : Are the guardians to be imitative (394e)? Here the two sense of the term 'imitative' clearly appear . For the answer is both 'no' and 'yes'. Imitation in one sense is forbidden; for it is harmful to identify oneself sympathetically with other people. In the first place, such an imitation would destroy the single-mindedness which must characterise the guardian. In the second place, as imitation is dangerously apt to become reality, an inappropriate character would be built up by imitating, in body, voice or thought, inappropriate qualities. Imitation in a second sense is permitted / even recommended. The guardians, from childhood, must imitate the qualities proper to their occupation, such as courage / purity / temperance (395c). Formally this is the same kind of imitation as the first, for it involves speaking in the character of men who are courageous, etc. But really it is very different; for the guardians who practice it will be imitating their own ideal character, not characters utterly alien from their own. It involves not the suppression but the development of the personality.
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ART The three styles described above are modified so as to appear in the following form : I.
The non-imitative style, which is the style of the virtuous man, the man of measure (396bcd). Such a man will refuse, as a rule, to imitate baser men, nor will he be inclined to imitate a virtuous man who has been thrown off his balance by some misfortune. His style will consist in the main of simple narrative. But he will imitate : A. Good men like himself B. Baser men for amusement C. Baser men when they perform a virtuous action.
II. The imitative style, which is natural to the man of opposite character. The more worthless this poet is, the readier he will be to imitate every kind of speech and action (397a). His style will by wholly imitative or contain but a small portion of direct narrative (397b). As the non-imitative element is reduced to a minimum, this is the imitative style. III. A style compounded of I and II. Only style (I) shall be admitted. For Book III, the poetry that Plato admits as non-imitative may be imitative or dramatic in some passages, as when the poet speaks in the character of a good man like himself. But from 401-402 it appears that it will also be imitative in a slightly extended sense; in its beauty, rhythm, and harmony it is an imitation or expression of the good and temperate character proper to the poet and to those for whom he writes - it is imitative because it imitates the ideal world which the philosopher strives to imitate and resemble in his own person. The conclusion then is that Plato is quite right in stating at the beginning of the tenth book that he had previously decided to exclude the imitative branch of poetry : imitative, understood as meaning the style of the unphilosophic /
unsvirtuous poet - 398abc. Part II : Relationship between Book X and Book III This result means that the first half of the tenth book is to be read as supplementary to, and in light of, the third. This is natural for two reasons : A. Socrates refers, in 595a, to his previous conclusion as something which he is now about to elucidate further. B. Hymns to the gods and panegyrics on good men are retained in 607a without any explanation; which proves the necessity of seeking it in the earlier discussion. The unworthy poet, in so far as he assumes the character of another - whether shoemaker or a man of virtue or wisdom he is imitative in the condemnatory sense. Having no knowledge he does not see, and therefore cannot represent, the ideal forms which are in some way immanent in human character. His work will consist merely of words and actions which are an imitation (1) of a virtuous man or a shoemaker (2) who is himself in some sense an imitation of reality the ideas (3) : He produces something three removes (inclusively) from the truth.
- The poet who is imitative in the sense in which the guardians are permitted to be imitative will produce a direct copy of reality; he will be like the painter who uses the 'divine paradigm' ; not like the painter who is content to hold the mirror up to nature. 596 : Plato uses this analogy between imitative poetry and imitative (realistic) painting. If such a painter makes a lifelike copy of a shoemaker, it dos not follow he knows the principles of the shoemaker. Equally, if a poet represents to the satisfaction of those as ignorant as himself - a virtuous man or one gifted with any quality or art, it must not be thought that he himself knows the truth about virtue and whatever arts he happens to represent.
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- The mere imitator produces which is thrice removed from turret - an imitation of an imitation of reality. The tragedian, in assuming a character alien from his own, is not merely open to the ethical criticisms of Book III; he is necessarily remove from the truth, because he can copy only appearances, the words and actions of such characters (603c); he does not express, for he does not understand, the principles which underlie those appearances and which constitute reality.
- Both imitative painter and poet represent only the externals, not the inner meaning of which they imitate. The transition from painting to poetry gives rise to an important difficulty (597e). How do we know, if we leave the third book out of account, that the tragedian is an imitator in this sense? The conclusion must be that the tenth book is entirely consistent with the third - and merely illustrates the relation of imitative poetry to truth which is implicit in the earlier discussion. Part Three : Kinds of Poetry The distinction between the good and bad sense of imitation is, broadly speaking, a distinction between two kinds of artists : The ignorant and the enlightened. Here we have the key to understanding Plato's attitude towards poetry and art in general. There is a kind of art that does not merely copy external characteristics, but which has some regard for the world of reality. The clearest account of this genuine kind of imitation is in 500-501 - where Plato comrades genuine waiting with genuine statecraft :
- The philosophers who desire to introduce the turrets of the ideal world into the public and private lives of men will be no mean artificers of all virtue. They will be 'painters using the divine paradigm'. First they will outline the form of the constitution upon a clean canvas; then as they fill in the details they will turn their gaze upon the ideal forms of justice / beauty and the like. They will be guided by instances among mankind of that quality of the soul which even Homer called godly and godlike. It follows that there are two kinds of artists - and two corresponding kind son imitation and art in general. One kind consists of lovers of beauty and wisdom, who have some knowledge of the ideal world. Their work is really beautiful though it does not impart scientific knowledge, it is produced in light of such knowledge (402bc). Thus poetry will be true as well as beautiful. But it would appear that in Plato's view, no extant poetry belonged to this class. The ideal state must in its own interests call a new race of poets into being. The other kind of imitation is that in the condemnatory sense. It includes the poets who copy only external characteristics of men. Homer and the tragedians belong to this class. They are ignorant, and do not even have right opinion : They will be excluded from the state.
- The Phaedrus makes the same distinction in respect of poets and orators. The genuine poet or orator will base his compositions on a knowledge of the truth. If by poet we mean a mere imitative trafficker in words - one who has not knowledge - then the genuine poet will be greater than poet; he will be a philosopher.
- In Laws there are two kinds of poetry : one which asks to be judged by 'pleasure and false opinion' and one which can stand the test of comparison with the truth.
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